The long arm of the plaintiff
American victims of terrorism sue a bank, claiming it abetted attacks
HAMAS, the Islamic militant group that runs Gaza and conducts terrorist attacks in Israel, does not tend to answer court summons. But Arab Bank, one of the oldest financial institutions in the Middle East, does. This week, after a decade of legal toing and froing, it found itself on trial in Brooklyn, accused of complicity in various acts of terrorism by Hamas in which Americans were killed or injured. The victims and their families claim that Arab Bank “knowingly and purposefully” abetted the attacks by providing financial services to people and organisations linked to Hamas; Arab Bank denies the claim.
The bank is being sued under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1990, whereby Americans can claim damages in federal court for injuries caused by terrorism anywhere in the world. The law was passed in response to the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound American who was shot and then tossed off an Italian cruise ship by Palestinian hijackers. In theory it provides broad scope for redress, but in practice it has had little effect, as foreign terrorists are hard to bring to justice. Hence the plaintiffs' search for less elusive accomplices.
The lawsuit, which was first filed in 2004, originally involved only six families affected by Hamas attacks, including the parents of a two-year-old child killed in a bus bombing. But more victims have signed up: there are now 297 plaintiffs; and hundreds of other claims are pending.
The plaintiffs accuse Arab Bank of having helped Hamas in three different ways. First, it transferred funds from the Saudi Committee, ostensibly a charity, to relatives of 55 suicide-bombers. One payment went to the family of a man who bombed a restaurant in Jerusalem in 2001, killing 15 people including seven children. Second, the bank maintained accounts for another dozen charities that the plaintiffs contend were merely fronts for Hamas. The final connection was by providing personal accounts for 30 senior members of Hamas, including Ahmad Yassin, the group's spiritual leader, who was designated a terrorist by the American government in 1995, and Salah Shehadeh, the founder of its military arm. Arab Bank did so, according to the court's summary of the plaintiffs' argument, despite knowing that the people and organisations concerned were involved in terrorism.
那些指控阿拉伯银行帮助哈马斯的原告主要是从三个方面的原因来谈的。首先，它以慈善的名义从沙特委员会划拨资金给55名自杀式炸弹袭击者的家属。其中一些款项就是流向一个在2001年炸了一家耶律撒冷餐馆导致包括七名孩子在内的十五人丧生的恐怖分子家属。其次，原告者认为银行所维系的另外十二个慈善机构的账户也仅仅是针对哈马斯方面的。他们终端的联系方式便是通过银行为三十名包括Ahmad Yassin在内的哈马斯的高级成员开设私人账户。而Ahmad Yassin作为哈马斯的精神领袖，于1995年被美国政府作为高危恐怖分子列入在册。这其中还包括Salah Shehadeh，哈马斯军事部门的创始人。根据法院对于原告的论点总结，阿拉伯银行尽管知道这些人或者组织与恐怖主义息息相关，却依旧如此作为。
The bank has denied each of the claims, contending that no services were provided to any entity or person on America's list of known terrorists at the time, with the exception of a single transaction on behalf of Mr Yassin, due to a clerical error. It also points out that the transfers it made on behalf of the Saudi Committee were among the thousands the group made to the families of people hurt or killed in fighting in the West Bank and Gaza, and so appeared as humanitarian in nature. The courts have barred Arab Bank from defending itself on the ground that it complied with all local laws in the countries where the transactions took place, or on the ground that the attacks are part of a long history of violence in the region for which it could not be held responsible.
The main drama in the trial thus far has been the selection of the jury. Finding enough New Yorkers who are unopinionated and uninformed enough to form an unbiased panel has not been easy. No fewer than 500 candidates were required to complete a 25-page questionnaire to probe their suitability. It asked where they got their news, whether they spoke Arabic or Hebrew, what ties they and their friends and family had to the Middle East, and whether they knew any victims of terrorism, including the various attacks on New York. There were also questions not only about their own impressions of Muslims, Jews and Arabs, but also about those of their family and friends. Amazingly, this interrogation yielded ten apparently neutral jurors who will now sit through a trial that could last weeks or months.